U.S. Forest Service Juneau District Ranger Brad Orr speaks to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce during its weekly luncheon at the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Thursday, June 27, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

U.S. Forest Service Juneau District Ranger Brad Orr speaks to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce during its weekly luncheon at the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Thursday, June 27, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Mendenhall Glacier area overhaul is still a work in progress

It will be years before work starts on expansive project

A Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area master plan is in place, but pursuit of its vision will likely move at a glacial pace.

A final decision on the expansive planned overhaul for the visitor center and its surrounding area is about a year out, said U.S. Forest Service Juneau District Ranger Brad Orr said in an interview Thursday after a presentation to the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce.

The earliest work could start on the project is in about three years.

[Live: What’s going on with the Mendenhall master plan?]

In the meantime, ECI Anchorage has been awarded the contract for final National Environmental Policy Act and final design contract. When a federal agency develops a proposal to take a major federal action, NEPA requires an environmental assessment.

“They’ve already started the process,” Orr said during his presentation. “ECI will be scheduling a public scoping meeting.”

The date for that meeting has yet to be announced.

The meeting will offer the public another chance — there have been several public meetings related to the plan for the area’s next 50 years already — to shape the final direction the project will take.

About six years ago, the district applied for a Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP) Grant to develop a master plan for the Mendenhall Glacier Recreational Area, Orr said. Crowding, long lines, stacked buses and aging facilities are some of the issues the plan addresses, Orr said.

The glacier attracts more than 500,000 visitors each year, and Orr said one in three visitors to Alaska will go there.

To address some of the strain imposed by that many people and to provide what Orr described as a “world-class experience” the plan calls for a lot of work.

Trail improvements, a new welcome center, more restrooms, an expanded theater, a mobile visitor area closer to the glacier, boat shuttles across the lake and more are part of an almost 50-page plan.

An artist’s rendering of what a visitor facility near the Mendenhall Glacier could look like was included in U.S. Forest Service Juneau District Ranger Brad Orr’s presentation to the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce Thursday, June 27, 2019. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

An artist’s rendering of what a visitor facility near the Mendenhall Glacier could look like was included in U.S. Forest Service Juneau District Ranger Brad Orr’s presentation to the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce Thursday, June 27, 2019. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

However, what will ultimately be pursued could be different from what has been drawn up.

“A plan is just a plan, not a decision,” Orr said.

[Master plan calls for major change]

The estimated cost of the project as planned is $80 million, Orr said.

“How are we going to pay for that?” he asked rhetorically. “Of course, we don’t know. It’s unlikely Congress is going to throw $80 million at us.”

Orr said there may be private companies that could provide some of the services envisioned in the plan.

Fees are another possible revenue source and so are grants, but he said it is hoped there would be some federal financial contribution to implementing the plan.

“We’re hoping we can get some support from D.C. on some of those projects,” Orr said.

“One way or another, we should be able to get it done,” Orr said.


• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.


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